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Study Confirms Asking Directly About Suicide Doesn’t Cause More Harm

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

What happened: A new study published in the Archives of Suicide Research showed that asking patients if they have suicidal thoughts or self-harm does not increase distress — confirming that asking directly about suicide doesn’t lead to more suicidal thoughts. Researchers reviewed 17 studies and used systemic review and random-effect meta-analysis on eight of the studies to compare the outcomes where participants had been asked about the behaviors and those where they hadn’t been asked.

  • Scientists say forest plots showed there was no significant effects on asking about suicide-related behaviors, suicidal ideation or self-injury
  • The study emphasized that although researchers found no harmful effects, more randomized controlled trials would be necessary to “firmly” conclude that there are no harmful effects in asking

Not only is asking important for truly understanding and improving public health surveillance efforts, it also is important for providing clinical care. However, few seek help for [self-injury and suicide-related behaviors], and even fewer voluntarily divulge this information. — Study authors

The Frontlines: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and according to the National Institute of Health, can be preventable when we ask directly about suicide. Advocates have done a lot of work to educate the public that asking about suicidal thoughts won’t “plant ideas” in someone’s head, but opens the door for those who are struggling to openly share what they’re feeling, including:

  • Talking about feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or dealing with unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others

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A Mighty Voice: Our contributor, Mae, shared the important role the people around you can play in preventing suicide saying, “It is the simple hug, the smile, the warmth of your laughter and your ‘hello’ that has helped prevent my suicide, my death. And it is because of the kindness I’ve received in my journey from those near and dear to me that I pay it forward, that I speak out. Because at the end of the day, change starts with one, change starts here.” You can submit your first-person story, too.

Add your voice:

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Other things to know: Understanding what it’s like to live with suicidal thoughts can help the public understand how to better offer support and potentially save a life. Here is what The Mighty’s contributors are saying:

How to take action: You can learn more about the study here and learn more about asking about suicide with this helpful resource.

Header image via Patryk Sobczak on Unsplash

Originally published: August 3, 2020
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